One of the many advantages veterans enjoy in entrepreneurship is the doctrine we learned during our years of service. And while part of the vocabulary of warfighting is inappropriate to civilian business, still the concepts can be quickly adapted to give us direction as we start and run our companies.

Rabs in Marine Corps Cammies

For example, Marine Corps doctrine on warfighting recognizes three levels of war

  1. Strategic – the art of winning wars by establishing goals, assigning forces, providing assets, and imposing conditions on the use of force.
  2. Operational – the art and science of winning campaigns, it links the strategic and tactical levels, including deciding when, where, and under what conditions to engage the enemy.
  3. Tactical – the art and science of winning engagements through the concepts and methods used to accomplish a particular mission and achieve the objectives of the campaign.

So how do we translate these ideas to business planning? The same three levels apply:

  1. Strategic – This is our business idea, mission statement, and goals. Also, it is our evaluation of the types of expertise our business requires, especially those we do not have ourselves, and the capital and equipment we need to be successful.
  2. Operational – This is our assessment of the profile of the clients or customer with whom we are most likely to be successful, where we can come in contact with them, the timing of our marketing efforts, and how we can set the stage to be most effective in attracting their patronage.
  3. Tactical – This is our step-by-step plan through which we will act to obtain these clients or customers.

For example, when I decided to go back into business, initially I worked at the strategic level. I assessed my skills, researched business ideas, and gauged the market for them and their chances of success. Having selected the one I wanted to pursue I developed my mission statement and goals and determined funding and other materials I needed to move forward.

Having clarified my strategic thinking, my planning shifted to the operational level. While my main clientele, veterans and service members, was obvious, less so were the individuals through whom I could expand my reach to them. Through networking, I found people who help veterans transition to civilian life, then planned how and where I could contact others in the same positions and stay in touch with them. Next, I set a calendar for my marketing effort. As I formed my plans at the operational level I periodically reviewed my strategic plans to ensure I was heading in the right direction but also to decide if my strategy needed to be revised.

Once my operational plan was fairly well developed I created materials, scripts, and email and telephone lists of the people I needed to contact and started doing so. Did my materials motivate them to act from the get go? Did my scripts immediately convince them of the greatness of my program? No and no. Indeed my early presentations were as much about refining my tactics as they were about persuading people to help me. I revised my tactics, periodically reviewed my operational plan in light of the overall response to my marketing effort, and shifted my strategy as the assets I had available changed.

At each stage of planning, I wrote down the major points and the reasoning supporting these decisions. As I move forward, I use my version of another Marine Corps doctrine, maneuver warfare (which I will talk about in another post) to continually appraise my success and make adjustments at all three levels.

So take the doctrine of your branch of the military and adapt it to your business planning. If you are not a veteran, take a look at the Marine Corps doctrine.